The Arizona Wildcats starting pitchers have performed much better at home than on the road this year, and that trend continued on Thursday night.
UCLA came in to Tucson undefeated in Pac-12 play, but JC Cloney ended that, throwing a complete game, his first at Arizona, leading the Wildcats to a 6-1 win.
Almost all of the scoring went down in the second inning. UCLA was able to get a run across on an RBI single by Trent Chatterton with the Arizona infield drawn in. That would be it for the Bruins though as they would strand Chatterton at third after a wild pitch and a grounder to second.
Arizona would answer back in a big way, as they have done many times in 2016. The first six batters of their half of the inning reached base, resulting in five runs. The only really hard hit ball was a double from Alfonso Rivas that drove in the first Wildcat run. A few seeing-eye singles and a hit batter would give Arizona four more runs to make it 5-1 after the second.
Both starting pitchers would find their groove after that outburst. Cloney would not allow multiple runners to reach base in a single inning the rest of the way, nor let one get past second base.
After struggling last weekend at Washington a bit, returning home was what Cloney needed to get back on track.
"Just familiarity with the ballpark," he said about having more success at home. "The home crowd, that's a big thing. That gets the adrenaline boosting through your body so maybe you blow a fastball by a couple guys. Up in Washington, there was 150 fans so you don't really get the adrenaline as you normally do."
Griffin Canning would do similar things for UCLA, but would have to come out in the 7th after throwing 125 pitches. Hunter Virant would faceoff against Rivas in a lefty-lefty matchup, but failed to throw a strike. Scott Burke took the mound to face Zach Gibbons, and the senior outfielder would smoke his second single of the night through the right side of the infield to make it 6-1.
"In pregame, when we take BP, our first round no matter where the pitch is pitched, coach Sergio Brown makes us drive it the other way," Gibbons said of his recent uptick in singles hit the other way. "Just really working on getting our hands through no matter where the pitch is."
Cesar Salazar followed that with a walk to load the bases, but a long Louis Boyd fly out to center would end the threat there.
Thursday was all about Cloney though. The junior would need only 104 pitches to get through the entire game, and was never really in trouble.
"JC did a tremendous job on the mound like always," Gibbons said of his pitcher. "Our lineup can definitely build off of it. He goes out there and gives everything he has, and all we really need to focus on is if we get a couple runs, he's going to hold on to 'em."
"After scoring a couple runs, (Jay Johnson) loves the strike zone pressure," Cloney said of his performance in the final seven innings. "If you give up a couple base hits, he'll be fine with it because he knows you're around the zone."
"Coach Lawn came up to me in the fourth and told me there's no pitch count tonight because we've got a lot of games coming up, so have fun," continued Cloney. "He kind of said that and it kind of took the stress off. It was just kind of go out there and do your thing."
The two teams will meet again on Friday night at 6 PM. Nathan Bannister will take the hill for Arizona, going against UCLA's Grant Dyer.
"I know Banni will want to be better," Cloney said of moving into Friday night. "One guy goes out and does something, and the next guy's gotta be better, and you just kind of roll through there."